I’ll never forget the first book that absolutely blew my mind, the one that forever changed my relationship with words. I was first exposed to this classic in the first grade, not as a traditional book, but as a film strip. Remember those?
My mom had just started working again, so when school let out my brother and I would usually stick around for the after school program. Kids in after school ranged from kindergarten to fifth grade. Younger kids like me were thus exposed to a lot of things earlier, like big kid books (and bad words!). Usually me and my brother would go for an hour or so to after school. It was pretty crazy how Lord of the Flies things got in that short hour, but that’s for another blog post. Usually we’d have a snack and then play a bit, inevitably building some kind of fort or another in the woods behind the school, and then we’d get picked up. They usually showed a video or a film strip at the end, but we were long gone by then.
But there was this one day where we were among the last kids. We didn’t get picked up until like 6. It was winter and the weather was bad, so we didn’t play outside that day. As I sat in that first grade classroom with the Letter People on the wall and the desks pushed together in little islands, I remember thinking about how late it was. At that age you don’t think about time and get frustrated. You just notice how things are different from usual. And when you’re six you don’t count time by clocks. My stomach told me all I needed to know. The cookie and chocolate milk snack they gave us right after school had long since worn off.
On this day they played a film strip called A Wrinkle in Time. Before they started it, a teacher tried to explain it. She talked about how your brain is wrinkled and every time you learn something new you get a new wrinkle, and how the kids in this story learned what they needed to do just in time. In hindsight I know that is not at all what the book is about. But on that afternoon in 1980 in that classroom with the desk islands and the Letter People, it sounded good. At least not boring.
I remember watching the film strip and being absolutely mesmerized. The plot revolved around a girl who was struggling at school who met up with these three strange ladies who take her on all these crazy travels by tessering through time and space (the theory behind tessering is where the book’s title actually came from). The villain wasn’t really a traditional “bad guy” at all but rather this forboding dark cloud called The Black Thing. All of these elements made for a fantastic tale like nothing I’d seen before. I tracked down the book in the school library and I was hooked.
Around this same time our family moved. It wasn’t a huge move but it represented so much to me. That area has been swallowed whole by metro Atlanta now, but back then moving 5 miles meant moving to the country. The view out my bedroom window went from a tree lined neighborhood to a pasture: I was literally awakened by cows every morning. There was a creek down the street where me and my brother would go wade in the water. The nearest kid my age lived a mile away.
Something about the books I was reading, and A Wrinkle in Time in particular, acted as an anchor during our move. I think the main thing that struck me about that book was how the magic was woven in with ordinary life in a way that made it feel real. Instead of having kids fall down a rabbit hole or walk through a wardrobe to find the fantasy world, the fantasy world coexisted with our own. Instead of the kids going to this other place, the other place came to them. At this point my life had begun to lose its magic. It was encouraging to know that maybe, just maybe, there was still a little bit of magic out there in the world.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and Third Day was in the studio working on a Rich Mullins tribute project. I asked the producer what he liked to read (I ask that a lot as an ice breaker) and he mentioned L’Engle. I had read a few of her kids books growing up, but I had no idea that she wrote books for grownups and that her Christian faith shone through her writing. She has since become my favorite author (again!) and a wellspring of inspiration for my music and writing pursuits.
I have encountered so many people who have been similarly inspired. A Wrinkle In Time was one of the first children’s novels with a strong female protagonist and has been a source of empowerment for countless girls who read it. I can’t wait to read it with my girls. I hope they are inspired in that way too. I hope it makes them ask big questions about good and evil, about God and love. I hope it means as much to them as it does me.
If you’ve never read A Wrinkle in Time, I totally recommend it. You also can’t go wrong with her memoirs: A Circle of Quiet is stellar, and Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art is an absolute classic.
What about you? What was the book you read as a kid that made you fall in love with books?